An impressively imagined empire tale set in the medieval Levant.

THE EMPEROR STRIKES BACK

A European emperor goes to war with his own Crusader subjects in this historical novel.

Frederick II Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman emperor, is the nominal overlord of Outremer—the Crusader states that European Christians established in the Holy Land. But Frederick’s temporary treaty with the sultan of the Saracens has made him unpopular with Outremer’s Christians, who feel beset by enemies on all sides. What’s more, the emperor’s claim to the throne of Jerusalem is being disputed by the local lords there. In all these matters, Frederick blames John d’Ibelin, the honorable lord of Beirut, who recently seized Cyprus from the emperor’s chosen governors and who has won the favor of the land’s teenage king, Henry. Frederick strips John of his title and of Beirut itself, ordering that the Ibelins “vacate the city within 30 days of the judgment of this court or face the consequences of their treason.” As the emperor moves to subdue his own subjects, the embattled Ibelins—including John’s impulsive but capable heir, Balian, and his teenage daughter, Bella, who aspires to become a nun—are left to protect all they have built while withstanding the wrath of an entire empire. Schrader’s (Rebels Against Tyranny, 2018, etc.) prose manages to summon the culture and time period of the Crusader states while remaining light and readable: “As far as the Archbishop knew, this man had not committed any great sins—at least not recently. There were rumors, of course. Whispers of nuns ravaged and churches plundered, but from long ago, and the victims had been Greek, in any case.” The houses and backstories are as dense as anything from Frank Herbert or George R.R. Martin, and this slows the pace down a bit even as Schrader attempts to hew to the tales of a few main characters. The amount of detail and underlying research in the novel is remarkable, and fans of history will not mind the digressions and connections that ornament the plot. The author manages to spin quite an epic out of this relatively obscure historical event, bringing a vibrant forgotten world to life in the process.

An impressively imagined empire tale set in the medieval Levant.

Pub Date: July 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62787-699-5

Page Count: 433

Publisher: Wheatmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2019

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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